The immediate danger from the Fuego volcano is far from over, but even after it passes consequences will likely be felt by the people of south-central Guatemala for years.
The first concerns will be caring for survivors, accounting for the missing and burying the dead. The official death toll as of June 7 was 109 with nearly 200 missing, but those figures will almost certainly rise as rescue and recovery workers are able to progress into the areas of greatest impact, where up until now efforts have been hampered by the severe conditions.
Local Unbound staff members are working to account for all sponsored persons and their families in hard-hit areas, all of which are served by the Unbound Hermano Pedro ECA program. At this time staff members have been able to verify that most are safe in either evacuation shelters or the homes of relatives. Nine families remain unaccounted for and efforts to contact them have, so far, been unsuccessful.
In times of natural disasters and other emergencies, Unbound will notify sponsors directly if we learn that their sponsored friends have been injured or otherwise seriously affected.
Ash threatens crops
When those now residing in evacuation shelters are able to return to their homes, the effects of the volcano will endure. According to the Volcano Hazards Program of the U.S. Geological Survey, “Ashfall can have significant impacts on crops much like pasture land. Physical impacts from additional weight of ash on leaves, partial burial and stem/branch snapping all prevent the plants natural processes such as photosynthesis, transpiration and water content leading to crop failure.” Such a widespread failure will not only impact local farmers, but be felt throughout the rest of Guatemala and the other Central and South American countries that import their produce.
Animals also may be affected by the ash. The Volcano Hazards Program states that, “Livestock eating pasture that is contaminated with ash can suffer and die from gastrointestinal blockages. Shortages of uncontaminated feed and water after an ashfall can also lead to starvation.”
Even if any agricultural products do survive, transporting them may be a challenge, according to Unbound’s director of international programs, Dan Pearson, who has been closely monitoring the situation in Guatemala.
“There is some concern that the new lava flow could reach the coastal highway, the larger of the two highways that connect Mexico and the U.S. with the rest of Central America,” Pearson said. “Even temporary closure of that highway would cause significant transportation challenges that would negatively impact Guatemala’s economy.”
Heavy rains loom
To make matters worse, it’s now the rainy season in Guatemala, and people there are in a race against time to try to clear as much ash as possible from plants and roads before the heaviest rains come. The combination of rain and volcanic ash produces a concrete-like substance that blocks waterways and clogs drainage systems, leading to even worse flash flooding than usual.
“The rainy season starts in early to mid-May and it ends in late September or early October,” Unbound communications liaison director Henry Flores said. “In the middle of that season is when the strongest rains arrive. In Guatemala, rains are especially strong for several reasons. One is that it’s high up from sea level, especially the area where the volcano is located. Also, there are lots of coffee plantations around it, which are basically forests, so the rain gets pretty strong there.”
The rainy season always brings health hazards in the form of respiratory and water-borne diseases, but with so many displaced persons living in close proximity in shelters, those hazards will likely increase.
Staff members from Unbound’s Hermano Pedro and Atitlan programs are working to assist people affected by the volcano. As the level of need becomes clearer, they will be available to support sponsored members and their families in their long-term recovery.
What you can do
- Donate to Disaster Response. Unbound’s Disaster Response fund provides assistance to families in the aftermath of events like the eruption of the Fuego volcano.
- Make sure your contact information is up to date. In times of natural disaster, Unbound notifies sponsors personally if we learn that their sponsored friends have been injured or otherwise seriously impacted, so keeping your information up to date is important.
- Pray. The Unbound community holds all those affected and those assisting with rescue efforts in our thoughts and prayers.
- Check here for updates. We’ll continue to update our blog as we receive additional information.